- Contributed by
- CSV Solent
- People in story:
- Joan Hopkins
- Location of story:
- East Anglia
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 14 December 2005
This story was submitted to the Peoples War website by Noreen on behalf of Joan Eddington and has been added to the site with her permission. She fully understands the site terms and conditions.
TITLE: “ A WAAF who wore ‘Sparks’”
My memories of the 2nd world war as they come to me now — aged 82 — Joan Eddington nee Hopkins -
Hearing the BBC broadcast - “War declared”
The first air raid warning that followed so soon afterwards — My fathers face turning white with horror — having fought in 1914. He had been asleep after a spell of night duty as railway signalman. He seemed to spend most of this time ‘on duty’ throughout the war
From making the finest of silk blouses etc I learned to make leather gloves, which were issued by the RAF to airman officers.
The BBC played a very big part in life, informing, entertaining, giving good advice via the Radio Doctor —
Gardening (dig for Britain)
Marguerite Patten advising us the best way to use our rations etc.
The war news, as much as could be given.
Loss of ships, battles, so heartrending to hear so many at the beginning — made one more determined to carry on doing your bit to help win the war.
My call-up paper arrived with the Christmas cards on Christmas Day 1942 - for January 14 1943 — I became 2143830 ACW Hopkins J — posted to Innsworth, Gloucester for initial training — this diminutive little dressmaker got used to obeying shouted commands from a Sgt. Of the Guards!! Passed an exam and trained for 6 months — condensed training to become a Wireless Operator, and earned the right to wear the “Sparks” badge on my arm!!
Posted to OTU at Wing — lot of “spit and polish”.
Put on a charge once for wearing Rayon stockings, not the regulation Lyle — YUK
Worked shift duties sending a signal every 15 mins. to be picked up and noted by training airmen flying over the Welsh mountains
Eventually posted to Graveley, 6am on a New Years day. Arrived at a remote station Offord and Buckden — oil lamps, no gas or electricity even in the village.
Porter stopped a coal lorry to give me a lift to station HQ — Operational ‘Drome — vastly different from the training ones - Pathfinders, Lancasters and Mosquito squadrons.
5 other WAAFs WO/Ops arrived; we were to work with the Radar mechanics. I worked on the Lancasters - as an extra pair of hands and assistant for the Radar mechanics working in the section and out on the aircraft. It was a small drome so us wo/ps got well known and got quite efficient at our job.
Everyone on a drome was issued with a bicycle — some looked as if they were made of gas piping and wheels!!
We were allotted the only Nissan hut on camp — the WAAF camp about 3 miles from main station. It was damp and dirty but we set to and cleaned and polished and it shone. Vases of cowslips from the field helped,
We used a short cut over farmland sometimes — very muddy from where the cows had churned up the path. We would leave our bikes leaning up against the trees and walk through the mud in our wellies. One night there was a terrific thunderstorm. The tree my bike was leant on was struck by lighting. My bike was never quite the same, even after the mechs. had tried their best to straighten it!
A grounded aircrew type borrowed it once and said it was worse than riding a camel!! He was just back from a desert posting
The main WAAF site was made up of wooden huts. Loudspeakers in each fed off the main wireless in the Admin. Hut. We all used to follow the serials — mostly thrilling tales. Everyone looked forward to the final instalment and climax, and then the set broke down…Wireless ops to the rescue….. 2 of us cycled as fast as we could back to the Radar section, got the necessary valve and changed it — Everyone happy again.
A lot of Radar mechanics were Canadians. They looked after us as they were our brothers. They shared food parcels, showed us how to play softball and let us join in (its like baseball). They had been sent the equipment, gloves face guards and baseball bats, and they would practice during spare time.
The war by this time was drawing towards the end. The Americans were based in Huntingdon — they came over to play a match with us….they had everything — sports clothes to change into — (we didn’t), dustbin full of ice with bottles of soft drinks — (unheard of!!!), and of course they beat us. I was so enthusiastic about the game, I was the scorer.
Aircrew used to be grounded for a while after completing so many ops. They will be sent too different ‘dromes on ground duties. 2 came over and asked to join in our game once — one of them chewed tobacco and he pitched the ball — he was magic. His pitching was so fast, the batsman never saw the ball, and it would be in the catcher’s hands. The Yanks invited us over to their ‘drome for a game — we went over to them in an RAF lorry - they had a coach!! - We kept our pitcher as a secret weapon………and we BEAT THEM!!!!!!
The Lancs used to take off at twilight. The Yanks used to fly very high on daylight raids. We had FIDO on our ‘drome. It depresses fog so aircraft could land safely. We’d cycle up and see all sorts of aircraft landed in the night.
I once went into a Fortress — vastly different from our Lancs. I was allowed to test the radar sets and sign the form. Once, there was a hurried take off - George (the mech. I was with) said, “you take E Easy, I’ll take G George” that’s how we called our Lancs. — sometimes with a twist, like R for Robert was always referred to as “R fer Mo”, “L for Leather”….
Well, the ground crew had gone for a break, leaving one chaps in charge “OK” he says, “Get up in the nose (pilot seat) I’ll show you what to do when I prime the engines” — that was done outside — first to rev was Port Inner, then Port Outer, then Starboard Inner, and so on and there was me - alone in a pilot’s seat of a Lancaster with 4 engines going!!! Was I glad to see my ground crew chaps take over whilst I did all the testing!!
We had cinema shows every so often in one of the buildings. I remember one about the regiment defending a building in the desert — cut off — low on water and ammunition. A flag appeared in the distance ahead of the relief regiment, and a voice from the back of the hall yelled “NAFFI UP” — this was the shout when the NAFFI came out to us on the ‘drome.
Our station had a very good Drama group. It put on a thriller once — my friend, another Wo/Op, was female lead and had to wear an evening dress- where from??? No one had such a thing but we found some surplus blackout curtaining — I had no pattern, but somehow, sewing by hand, I produced a stunning black evening gown!! Great success…
The countryside around us was lovely and we needed our cycles to get anywhere. I remember that very bad winter. The snow packed down on hard snow. First time I had seen snowdrifts. We had to shovel the snow away from the Radar section door. Quite a few broken limbs from bad falls. It was bad enough trying to find the way without signposts or railway station names — in that white world then, hopeless.
Another thought … The Harvest moon was now called a Bombers moon. It lit the world, making bombing easy. Railway trains seemed always crowded and would pull up and wait outsides stations, allowing the ammunition trains or troop trains priority. I remember a sailor beside me, slipping sideways as he dozed, finishing up asleep on my shoulder.
The Market Gardens around were unable sometimes to get their luxury produce to market. They gave away strawberries particularly — the Canadians filled the lorry with them one day when going to another station to play softball — the smell was overpowering.
Another thought — the disappointment felt when leave was cancelled. Being given Leave unexpectedly — arriving home to find my mother and father had gone to stay with my grandfather in Faringdon (Berkshire then), leaving our little Jack Russell-type dog Bob with my aunt. I walked to Paddington station from Harlesden, taking my bike and Bob, picking our way through debris after a recent raid - Kensal Rise had been hit. Managed to get the train to Didcot, then Uffington and rode on my bike from there, Bob running alongside, to Faringdon which was full of service men making their way back to camp from the Pubs. It was said there were 31 pubs within the radius of 1 mile in Faringdon. It featured in Picture Post as “Tommy’s Town”. No real names ever given.
The American ‘guards’ were tall and black and wore white helmets. Our Air Forces wore the name of their country on their shoulder. Looking back I remember we got used to the air raid warning going each night and would hurry to get jobs done before having to retreat to the shelters. We used to think we could distinguish the sound of our bombers from the German bombers.
An enemy aircraft once “machine gunned” all the way down the High Street on its way to Willsden Junction’s Goods shed. It was Saturday teatime — I heard the ‘rat atat tat’ and shouted “Get down” to my mother. One of the bullets made a hole in the Scotch Bakery window. That stayed like that throughout the war! My father was on duty at Willesden and saw it all happening.
He had to make his way one night through an air raid to Queens Park Station. It was hit just before he got there. He took over from the signalman on duty, who went down to the platform to help the injured. My father manned the signal box. The force of the bomb moved the whole platform. Trains had to reduce speed to walking pace going through because the platform was so near the train.
Seeing “UNEXPLODE BOMB” notices blocking off streets…. Debris where a house once was…queues at the butchers shop when he’d got un-rationed items like rabbit…. brown sticky paper criss-crossing windows…sandbagged buildings…notices saying “careless talk costs lives”…I.T.M.A. on the radio…. Workers Playtime and the comedians taking part — they were a tonic…. newspapers reduced to a couple of pages…. magazines cut down in size…Iron railings being taken away for ammunition…sitting in the shelter listening to the ‘pank pank’ sound of guns being fired at enemy aircraft…the sound of the Air Raid Warden on his round - ours had a wooden leg - step..bonk, step..bonk.... barrage balloons dotting the skyline…watching the ‘dog fights’ between aircraft in the sky… having a stirrup pump to deal with incendiary bombs….
All these things were ‘NORM’ in those dark days, everyone experienced them. Churchill’s speeches…blackout if it was foggy-you walked with hands outstretched in front!!
The thrum of the bombers going over to bomb Coventry was something never forgotten Counting the bombs as they landed, hoping the next one would not be yours…. feeling the ground vibrate as they landed. Then the Buzz bombs — the ones that were unmanned… the engines cut, dreadful silence and then a huge explosion, anytime anywhere. The odd feeling of utter relieve when it was all over — coupled with a feeling of “what happens to me now??”… So many people gone… “pick up the pieces, make a new world”….
An after thought: being proud of our uniform, wanting to look smart. We would send our collars to the Chinese laundry…they would be sent back stiff and shiny. If they were at all tight, they could cut into your neck…but very smart!!!
Our collars were separate from the shirts, being attached with collar studs!! Having to keep our hair short and “off” our collar…
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